A few weeks ago I took my boys to our family dentist. I was hoping to finally get my five year old to sit still enough to successfully x-ray his molars and have my one year old’s first exam. To those ends, it was a roaring success! My eldest, through bribery, sat still and my baby screamed so loud and opened his mouth so wide no one had any issues seeing his teeth. I was in a pretty good mood, until the dentist reviewed the x-rays. My son had a giant cavity on right side of his bottom teeth and the beginning stages of another on the left. He’d need fillings, and soon.
Now I pride myself on dental hygiene. My boys brush twice a day, floss (do you know how much fun it is to floss a toddler?), and the oldest uses daily mouthwash. And yet, here I was, dumbfounded, facing two fillings before his sixth birthday. I mean, I have had one cavity my entire life, at 17. What have I done wrong here? I won’t lie, I wallowed in mommy guilt for a while after this. But in reality, comparing my childhood dental record to my boys is unfair. I grew up in Orange County, CA, and there we had a tooth defender we weren’t even aware of:
Fluoridated Drinking Water.
I knew Washoe County Water supply does not fluoridate their water. It was put to a vote in 2002 and turned down. Lawmakers again shut down the notion in 2009. “Truckee Meadows Water Authority Manager of Operations Paul Miller said it will cost $4-6 million to install a fluoridation system. It would also increase user bills by up to $1.50 per month.” (KRNV) I knew it was controversial, with people both for and against. Still, I wanted to know more, so I dug deeper.
First, fluoride is proven to help prevent tooth decay. That’s why nearly every toothpaste and mouthwash on the market includes it. Basically, it helps in remineralizing your teeth. Today’s diet is full of processed foods, sugar-laden carbohydrates, and sweets. These foods create a toxic soup in your mouth, ripe for bacteria growth. And what do these bacteria eat? Your enamel. Once that protective coating is gone, your teeth are exposed to the bacteria, which then attack the soft tissue and the nerve, causing cavities. Fluoride helps prevent that enamel from being destroyed. In some cases, introducing fluoride to the local drinking water lowered tooth decay by two thirds. Those in support of water fluoridation include the American Dental Association (ADA), the US Surgeon General, the American Medical Association (AMA), the National Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), not to mention international groups and countless dentists.
So why don’t we have it in Reno? Well, like all things today, fluoride is a hot-topic. Controversy encircles fluoride use, and without a doubt, too much fluoride is not a good thing. Overexposure can lead to fluorosis, which ranges from white streaks on your teeth to fully pockmarking them with brown stains. Skeletal fluorosis is a concern in adults exposed to too much fluoride. Some studies have shown excessive fluoride exposure while in utero lowers IQs and increases the risk of anemia. All in all, some scary stuff.
Fluoride, being a mineral, is found naturally in groundwater depending upon the soil and bedrock composition. I live in Double Diamond, South Reno, and the natural fluoride content in my area is .20 mg/l. (If you want to see what your area fluoridation level is, click here.) However, the CDC recommends .70 mg/l to receive the benefits. Adverse effects of fluoride arise from far higher levels. Fluorosis only happens when you consume excessive fluoride, so fluoridated toothpastes and mouthwash are safe as long as they aren’t swallowed.
Without a doubt, I’ve seen the benefits of water fluoridation in my family. My grandfather, mayor of his small town in Minnesota, fought to prevent fluoridated water while my father was a child. My dad has suffered dental issues throughout his entire life. My mom, a military brat, lived all of the world, mainly in places without fluoride, and still remembers having five cavities at her first dental checkup. My husband grew up in Reno and his dental bills have been enough to make me feel faint. I grew up in Orange County and have had one cavity, which I got three years after I moved to Incline Village. My little brother has only had one, occurring after we moved.
You may see this as circumstantial and fire back with “I’ve never had a cavity and I’ve lived in Reno my whole life…” and to that I reply “Good for you.” Obviously, genetics play a role in the strength and resilience of your enamel. But when you haven’t been handed the golden ticket in the dental genetic lottery, you need fluoride in your life. I know which way I’ll be voting should the measure to fluoridate Washoe County Water Supply come up again. In the meantime, I’ve got a filling appointment to schedule for my son. At least they’re baby teeth….